Any time I get stuck dealing with anxiety or a panic attack, there are a few things that race through my brain every single time. They include things like:
“Can anyone tell this is happening? I don’t want anyone to know.”
“Breathe, breathe, breathe, I’m okay, breathe, breathe…”
“I hate anxiety, this is so STUPID, what is wrong with me?!”
And so on.
There’s also one other thing that almost always pops up in my head during these moments: “How can I make this stop?”
After a bit of research and experimentation, I found one thing that works really well at stopping anxiety really fast is using something that is easily accessible – my five senses.
Yep! Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. They have helped me derail a panic attack before it starts more than once. Here’s how it works for me.
I will look around me and ask myself, “what do I see?” Instead of going for the obvious of, say, “a white wall in front of me,” I will try to seek out something less in-my-face. I’ll tell myself, “I see a purple candle” or “I see a red car out the window.”
“What do I hear?” If I’m at home, I might say, “I hear George playing guitar downstairs and Breanna dancing in the living room.” If I’m mid-commute on my way to work, I can tell myself, “I hear the revving of the bus engine running.” Whatever sounds are around me, I might try to pick out up to three distinct ones. At work that could mean, “I hear my co-worker talking on the phone, I hear someone laughing down the hall, and I hear the quiet hum of the air conditioner.”Five Senses to stop anxiety super fast!… Click To Tweet
I’ll take a deep breath in through the nose (which is good for calming anxiety and stopping the hyperventilation effect anyway) and ask, “what can I smell?” Ideally the answers are all pleasant ones but even if they’re not, I’ll acknowledge them. “I smell vanilla from the candle that’s burning on my shelf.” Maybe “I smell fresh air blowing through the window.” Even the unfortunate, “I smell diesel exhaust from the car in front of me.” Good or bad, I just name what it is.
Okay. Next, “what do I taste right now?” This is easy if I’ve just eaten something or have a candy in my mouth. “I taste the curry from my lunch.” “I taste the peppermint from this minty candy I popped in my mouth.” Even if I haven’t eaten anything in particular recently, every mouth has a taste so I might have to seek out the right description but even, “hmm, my mouth tastes metallic” or “I sense a weird bitter taste” will work.
Finally, “what can I touch?” I don’t just go with simply saying that I can feel the table or my sweater, I describe it to myself. “I am touching a smooth, cool desk.” If I put my hand on my arm I can say, “I am touching a really soft, plush sweater.” Anything that I can reach out and touch or hold in my hands is a good option. I carry a Worry Stone of sorts in my purse, along with a mala so sometimes I will grab them and I am able to say, “I am touching a hard, smooth stone” or “I am touching my tiger’s eye mala and it is really cold.”
6. Bonus – Feel!
Perfect, so now I have covered what I can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. I always try to aim for at least one for each category, sometimes multiple items for each. Now, here’s a bonus sense – Feel.
It’s not the same as the sense of touch. Feel is internal in this case. I will go through all five senses and then check in to ask myself how I currently FEEL.
I especially like to do this as a Before & After trick. Before starting the five basic senses I will ask myself how I feel and I might answer with something like, “I feel dizzy. I feel out of control. I feel scared.” It almost sounds counter-intuitive because often a first instinct is to try to ignore those things. If I refuse to acknowledge them, they’ll go away, right? Well, sometimes but not always. Naming those feelings actually creates a feeling of control and power.
Then once I have named how I feel and gone through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, I ask myself again – “How do I feel?” Hopefully by this time I can say, “I feel calmer. I feel grounded. I feel safe.”
Even if it’s not a perfect drop from Level 10 on the Anxiety scale to Level 1, at least I am usually at a lower point of stress and panic that I was when I started the whole process. If I’m not satisfied, I will start over, finding different answers to each question.
Why does it work?
It really comes down to distraction. In this case it’s distraction with a purpose because I’m asking myself the questions and seeking out the answers. The amygdala, the most ancient part of the human brain, is responsible for the “fight or flight” mechanism humans have. It kept us all safe at one time and still can, but many of us – myself included – have a broken fight or flight switch. My trip-wire in my amygdala gets flipped on for no good reason 99% of the time.
Luckily, because the amygdala is so primitive, it can’t focus on fear when the rest of the brain is engaged in something distracting or logical. If I force my brain to pay attention to my five senses, the shouting panic of the amygdala can no longer override my reactions and I inevitably calm down.
It has worked countless times for me. I find it has the best and fastest results if I’m paying attention and feel the anxiety building up. If I’m in full-blown panic mode then it’s a bit harder to focus on my senses; it still works but it might take 2-3 cycles instead of just one.
Did you just try it? Let me know in the comments if it helped! Better yet, share this post on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest and tag someone who needs to try this too!
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